Washingtonians complain all the time about the interminable political dinner speeches they have to listen to, but if they are really serious about speeding up their evenings, they might adopt the tradition of the Sugar Club of New York.
The Sugar Club's 62nd annual black tie banquet for 1,100 in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Wednesday night attracted everyone in the sugar industry, from Florida sugar baron Alfy Fanjul to Randy Green of the Washington-based Sweetener Users Association to traders and growers from Brazil and Thailand.
Before sugar broker Frank Jenkins began his "address" -- as the program called it -- the black-tie crowd suddenly began throwing $20 bills on their tables, with one person at each 10-seat table taking down the attendees' predictions of how long Jenkins would speak.
As Jenkins droned on about the recent ups and downs in the sugar market, people who had bet the speech would last only five minutes began booing, hissing and talking loudly. As the number of losers grew minute by minute, so did the noise. At 10 minutes, Jenkins taunted the crowd by hinting that he was going to trace the history of sugar prices since 1974, only to be greeted by a collective groan. At 16 minutes and five seconds, he suddenly concluded.
It was unclear whether Jenkins planned to end the speech at that moment or whether he gave into the increasing din. As the crowd dispersed to the after-parties where the mostly male crowd could wheel and deal and ogle Brazilian dancers dressed in feathers, one could only dream of the day Washington might subject a politician to the same treatment.
This article appears in the May 22, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily.